Breaking Chains in Belgium
Jerry B. Foster worked as a Christian schoolteacher when he sensed the call. His wife, April J. Foster, already had given birth to three daughters and cared for her ailing mother-in-law when she knew.
The couple in 2000 heard then-Northern Europe area director J. Richard Dunn speak at a missions convention at Ocala First Assembly
, the church they attended in Florida. The Fosters told Dunn of their desire to serve, and he encouraged them to help in Belgium.
Initially, the Fosters became missionary associates. Jerry served as business administrator for International Media Ministries
and April worked at a Christian school. For the past 14 years, the Fosters have been fully appointed Assemblies of God world missionaries
In 2007 the Fosters started Breaking Chains Network
, an organization that fights human trafficking and prevents exploitation. In an effort to offer hope, help, and healing, the Fosters are supported by a regular team of around a dozen rotating volunteers
— interns, missionaries, missionary associates, Continental Theological Seminary students and staff. Team members have ministered to thousands in the red-light district in 11 years of outreach. Shawn Alderman is a fully appointed missionary who has worked with Breaking Chains Network full time for the past decade.
Many prostituted women in Belgium are from Eastern Europe and Africa, lured by promises of a better life, only to be sold into entrapment, abuse, and forced prostitution.
“Europe has become a hub for human trafficking and Belgium, as the hub of Europe, has seen a tremendous influx,” says Paul W. Trementozzi
, AG World Missions Europe regional director. “It’s exasperated by the refugee situation of the past few years.”
Initially, April, with prayer partner Drue Huffman, walked into Belgium’s largest red-light district — which features 550 women working 12-hour shifts, sitting behind floor-to-ceiling windows, advertising their wares. April took carnations to the women, listened to their stories, and asked how she could help. She has talked with women from more than 50 countries.
“We know they are far from home and as we get to know them we identify their needs,” says April, whose face is usually adorned with a pleasant smile. “We tell them we care because God cares.”
While some sex workers are highly controlled by pimps, others have more liberty — as long as they turn in their required quota every day.
“Pimps usually allow conversations if they are brief,” says Foster, who received a bachelor’s degree from Southeastern University
and a Master’s Degree in International Community Development from Northwest University
Trementozzi says the Fosters understand organized crime is behind trafficking.
“They are thick-skinned, yet tender and full of grace,” Trementozzi says. “Jerry and April have the right demeanor so that they don’t let the darkness overwhelm them. They have compassion that keeps them balanced.”
While an element of danger is involved, Foster says the Holy Spirit makes it clear if it’s unwise to approach a certain area.
“We’re careful about where we go, when we go, and how we do things,” she says. “We’re never alone, and we pray before we go and have someone praying while we’re out there.”
In order to talk more freely, the Fosters opened Oasis Center in 2010. The community center, located in the largest red-light district of Belgium, allows Foster and her team members to pray for the prostitutes.
“We look for ways we can practically help them,” Foster says. “That might be holding their hand while they give birth or taking them to see a lawyer.” Other resources include vocational training, language classes, counseling, and Bible study.
Foster says more than two-thirds of the women Breaking Chains Network has ministered to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder at the same levels as combat veterans.
Breaking Chains Network, which cites Psalm 107:14-15 for its name, seeks to provide a sense of worth by applying biblical principles that prepare the women for a life free of exploitation. The ministry has helped several women return to their home countries and raised sponsorships for women to obtain educational opportunities that allow them to leave the sex industry. A Romanian woman went to cosmetology school, a Bulgarian woman attended law enforcement academy.
For three years, Breaking Chains Network operated Destiny House, a residential transition home where 17 women and children from nine countries lived.
Breaking Chains Network is under the umbrella of Project Rescue Europe
, the AGWM ministry co-founded by David and Beth Grant.
The Fosters, who have been married for 30 years, also are endorsed chaplains with U.S. Missions Chaplaincy Ministries
and credentialed Assemblies of God ministers.
“Becoming chaplains has opened doors beyond being a minister or missionary,” says the 49-year-old mother of three adult daughters. “We believe in the ethos of what Chaplaincy is about.”